IN GIVING open support to the conflicting claims of their Greek and Turkish “compatriots” in Cyprus, both Athens and Ankara have piled new fuel on the embers of a latent nationalism and dealt a deadly blow to the fragile Balkan alliance. As far as Turkey is concerned, the prominence that, the popular agitation against Greece has assumed is thought by many experienced observers to be due to the Menderes government’s deliberate desire to divert public attention from a grovvingly serious economic situation at home. The anti-Greek riots which erupted in Istanbul and Izmir last September have also been used by Ankara to introduce a regime of martial law and to tighten the gag already placed on the freedom of all opposition elements.

The ostensible cause of the turmoil is the island of Cyprus, which lies so close to Turkey’s southern coast that it is visible from the mainland on a clear day. About 100 miles long and 50 miles wide, Cyprus has a population of some 400,000 Orthodox Christians who call themselves Greeks and 100,000 Moslems who call themselves Turks. Racially they are a mixture of many different peoples, and in their veins flows the blood of those countless mariners, freebooters, fishermen, and traders who have sailed these seas since the legendary day that the goddess Aphrodite rose out of the sea at Paphos on the island’s southern coast.

Cyprus under British rule

Ever since 1878, when Disraeli obtained the Sultan’s permission to occupy the island with British forces, Cyprus has been administered by the English. Today this beautiful island enjoys a higher standard of living than any other area in the Middle East. With its balmy Mediterranean climate, it would probably also be one of the most peaceful places in this troubled part of the world but for those Greek agitators who in the past few years have stirred up a hornets’ nest of opposition to British rule.

The Turkish inhabitants of Cyprus have been British subjects ever since 1914, when England annexed the island at the start of the First World War. In the forty years that have elapsed since then they have had little to do with Turkey and they have manifested no discontent with British administration. The one thing they have never wanted, however, is to be placed under Greek rule. In the last year, as Greek agitation for the annexation of the island by Greece has mounted, these Turkish-speaking Cypriotes have grown more and more alarmed. Their cause has been espoused by Ankara, and a highly emotional interest in their “plight” has been worked up throughout Turkey.

The opening step in this campaign was the establishment some time ago of a government-sponsored committee flaunting the inflammatory title Kibris Türk (“Cyprus is Turkish”). ‘The title is a reflection of the widely held Turkish claim that, since Cyprus was an Ottoman possession for three centuries before the British arrived, it should, if it is to change hands at all, revert to Turkey. Prior to the September disturbances this committee was very active and it plastered Kibris Türk posters on street walls and windows everywhere, and even on the facades of shops owned by Greek citizens.

Paralleling this was a press and radio campaign, orchestrated by the Ankara government, which denounced the “Greek imperialism” of Athens with steadily mounting violence as the summer wore on. It was in this surcharged almosphere that the London Conference on the Cyprus question opened at the end of August. To make matters clear as to just where his government stood on this thorny issue, the Turkish delegate and Acting Foreign Minister, Fatin Rustu Zorlu, made a blunt speech informing the world that if Cyprus went to the Greeks, the Turkish government could assume no responsibility for the consequences.

Shortly thereafter, these words began to assume a sinister meaning as the rumor spread through Istanbul that something was afoot. Fearing the worst, some of the 70,000 Greek Orthodox inhabitants of Istanbul asked for special police protection, but the request was denied. The same thing happened in the seaport of Izmir. Then, late in the afternoon of September 6, the news was received that a bomb had exploded in the garden of the Turkish consulate at Salonika, damaging the house where Kemal Atatiirk was born. Though it eventually turned out that only a few windows had been broken, this was enough to ignite the explosion that had been building up for days and to set off the most massively organized “spontaneous” demonstrations which Turkey had seen in years.

Riots in Istanbul

The trouble began about seven o’clock that very evening with a demonstration by the students of Istanbul University. At the same time, and with suspicious rapidity and uniformity, well-organized “demolition squads” appeared all over the city. They were equipped with crowbars, axes, and bludgeons that were considerably heavier than baseball bats, and were led in many cases by standard-bearers. Methodically they set about demolishing Greek shops, wrecking the interiors and scattering the debris all over the streets. Where the owners had had time to ring down their protective iron shutters, the demolition teams pried them loose and destroyed everything inside.

Each squad, after thoroughly ransacking all the Greek shops in one area, would proceed to another assignment, being driven there in taxis and trucks. No Greek shop in the city was spared, and some demolition crews even went out to the islands in the Sea of Marmora to complete their work of destruction.

By ten o’clock that evening the main street of Beyoglu (the cosmopolitan part of Istanbul, where the hotels and consulates are located) was a mass of broken glass, smashed china, wrecked iceboxes, radios, and furniture, and unrolled bolts of manycolored fabrics. A number of Turkish as well as Armenian, Jewish, and a few European shops were also pillaged, possibly because of the failure of their owners to hang out the Turkish flag. Each squad, as it proceeded on its mission of destruction, was egged on by crowds of cheerful onlookers whom the police made no attempt to disperse.

About eleven o’clock armed Turkish soldiers began appearing at strategic city points, but they contented themselves with leaning on their weapons to watch the show. At the same time some squad leaders were overheard urging their men to work faster because “we have only four hours to finish the job.” Promptly at midnight the demolition stopped, the crowbar crews disappeared, the onlookers retired for the night, and troops began patrolling the streets.

By that time, however, the damage was done. Every Greek shop in the city had been smashed and a great number of Greek Orthodox churches destroyed or damaged. (According to one Greek estimate, 80 out of 90 churches had their interiors damaged beyond repair.) The inside of the Orthodox Cathedral was a shambles, and everything in it that could be burned, from painted ikons to tasseled curtains, had been thrown on to a bonfire and ignited. Everything else had been defiled. Even the Orthodox cemetery was not spared; tombs were broken into, and coffins and bones were strewn all over the place.

What happened at Istanbul was more or less duplicated at Izmir. But as this city has been for the last three years the headquarters of NATO’s South-East European Command, the anti-Greek rioters here did not content themselves simply with destroying Greek shops and setting fire to the consulate. They even rode out to the country to pillage the houses of Greek officers serving in the joint Greco-Turkish headquarters under the command of an American general.

Planned destruction

It may be some time before all the facts underlying this orgy of planned destruction come to light, so that it is still only possible to sift the truth from a number of unconfirmed reports. These reports coincide, however, in suggesting that the whole operation was planned and carried out by the government-sponsored Kibris Türk committee.

The President of the Turkish Republic, Celal Bayar, the Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes, as well as the Minister of the Interior, were in Istanbul on September 6. It was reported immediately after the riots that they had personally discussed the feasibility of an anti-Greek “demonstration” at this time with the local Governor, and that despite the latter’s opposition to the idea, it was decided to stage the demonstration that night. The President and the Prime Minister boarded the train for Ankara that evening, just as the rioters were getting down to work. They were reported to have left instructions that they be kept informed of the progress of the demolition operations. On reaching Izmir, a town on the Sea of Marmora two hours away from Istanbul, they got off the train and rushed back to Istanbul by ear to “restore order.”

The following morning the Prime Minister issued a communiqué stating that the whole thing had been a Communist plot, that a national emergency existed, and that martial law was needed to restore order. Some Communists were arrested along with a number of Turks who protested in vain that they had only been carrying out orders the night before.

Why did the government not act promptly to control the riots? In a single night this organized action destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of property, wrecked Turkey’s relations with Greece, dealt a telling blow to NATO’s right flank, and dissipated much of the fund of international prestige which Turkey has laboriously built up in the last five years, ever since she sent a brigade to fight in Korea. To this question there are basically two answers — the first economic, the second political.

Economic slump

Underlying the recent strains and stresses of Turkish political and social life has been a steadily deteriorating economic situation. The last two years have been drought years, putting an end to the country’s previous cereal export boom, which was caused not only by the importation of some 40,000 tractors but by three consecutive years of plentiful rain.

To make matters worse, the Menderes government has been heavily subsidizing the price of grain. This has been done in part to improve the lot of the long-underprivileged peasant, but it also reflects the government’s desire to curry favor with the farmers of Anatolia, who comprise 80 per cent of the country’s population. The grain subsidy has made it virtually impossible to sell, except by barter agreement, what wheat surplus there might be, for Turkish prices have ranged from 30 to 40 per cent above the world market level.

At the same time, a number of Turkey’s short-term loans have fallen due and the country’s foreign trade deficit has steadily increased. As Turkish importers have lacked the foreign credit with which to pay for their imports, foreign firms have suspended shipments. Imports of gasoline and diesel oil have been reduced to a trickle; motor vehicle transport has been drastically restricted by shortages of rubber tires and spare parts; factories have even had to halt production or proceed at half-steam for lack of essential raw materials.

With these import restrictions the cost of living has risen dramatically. Simultaneously the value of the Turkish lira has sunk. Though it is still officially pegged at 2.80 to the dollar, it recently reached 12 to the dollar on the black market, which is raging more fiercely than ever.

Realizing that the country was headed for an economic crisis, the Menderes government last spring appealed to the International Bank for a $300 million loan. But a number of international bankers have felt for some time that Turkey has been trying to industrialize itself too fast and sometimes has used valuable foreign credits to undertake expensive and relatively uneconomic projects, often for domestic political reasons. For this reason the International Bank refused to make Turkey any loan unless Ankara agreed to use the money on projects specifically approved by the Bank’s own experts. This the Turkish government — and in practice that means Adnan Menderes —chose to consider an intolerable interference in Turkish domestic affairs, and the negotiations were broken off. Menderes then appealed to Washington, but only succeeded in getting a $30 million increase in American aid.

These economic difficulties have naturally exacerbated a feeling of latent discontent in a country where some 200,000 Armenians, Greeks, and Jews—or less than 1 per cent of the population — control about 70 per cent of ITN export-import trade and a large part of its retail business. The difficulties have also provoked increasing criticism of a government which seems determined to use every weapon it can forge to stifle resistance to its policies.

Stifling the opposition

Since the crushing victory of the Democratic Party in the elections of May, 1954, when it won 508 out of 544 seats in the Turkish Parliament, the Menderes government has set out systematically to muzzle all opposition elements. The property of the main opposition party, the People’s Party (the party of Atatürk and Ismet Inönü), has been seized, newspapers critical of the government have been suppressed, journalists have been imprisoned or banished, and politicians have been arrested.

It is in this context that the antiGreek riots of last September take on their full meaning; for in recent months a new spirit of revolt against the Menderes government’s authoritarian tactics has sprung up within the Democratic Party itself. Something remarkably similar happened thirty years ago, in 1924, when a group of deputies in Atatürk’s own party revolted against his increasingly dictatorial rule and formed an opposition party. Atatürk promptly seized upon a rather minor “Kurdish revolt” in the eastern provinces of Anatolia to declare a national emergency, proclaim martial law, and have the opposition suppressed.

The present situation in Turkey is obviously not identical with that of 1924, but the resemblances are suggestive and disturbing. When, immediately after the September 6 riots, Adnan Menderes summoned a special session of the Grand National Assembly to approve a one-year proclamation of martial law in the cities of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, he met opposition on the floor of the house. Anti-government speeches were made, and the martial law period which the Prime Minister asked for was reduced to six months. But when ten Democratic deputies persisted in their criticism of the government, they were purged from the party.

Since that time about ten more deputies have seceded from the government majority and together they have formed a new Liberal Party that has adopted the platform and principles which the Democratic Party originally proclaimed but which it has failed to live up to in recent years. Some Turkish observers believe that this revolt against the Menderes government’s strong-arm methods will gather strength in the months to come. In any event the struggle that is shaping up is crucial, and on its outcome may depend whether or not the real spirit of democracy is going to win out in Turkey.